Lights, camera, run! Behind the videos of the mayoral candidates
Times Insider explains who we are and what we do, and provides behind-the-scenes information on how our journalism comes together.
On June 22, New Yorkers will go to the polls to choose the Democratic candidate who will most likely be the city’s next mayor. After a chaotic year, many voters are, naturally, listening now.
As a political producer on the New York Times video bureau, I spend most of my time thinking about how we can use original visual reporting to bring extra depth to key races and issues. For this mayoral race project, our goal was to help readers get to know a large group of candidates in a clear, informative and fun way.
Last month, we digitally released our final product, an interactive set of videos featuring interviews with the top eight Democratic candidates. Interviews, conducted by Metro reporters Emma Fitzsimmons and Katie Glueck, along with photographs taken on set, inform a print version of the project that appears in Sunday’s newspaper.
When we started planning we knew the race had a number of distinct qualities that we needed to consider. First, many of the candidates were not well known to those who did not follow city politics closely. It was also the first year that New York City used ranked voting – in this race, voters can rank up to five candidates on the ballot. (A full explanation of how this vote works can be found here.)
Our team included editors and reporters from Metro, designers, graphic writers and video journalists. The original idea for the play was based on earlier Times projects which focused on Democratic presidential candidates ahead of the 2020 primaries (here and here). The basic idea was simple: bring in candidates, ask them all the same questions, and post their answers in an interactive format that allowed readers to “choose their own adventure” and navigate through topics of interest.
We wanted to give these interviews and the project a New York feel, so we selected two different spaces in the New York Times Building where we could use the city as a backdrop.
Our interviews were conducted primarily in natural light, which can pose some challenges. Ideally, an overcast sky or a sunny day is best, as you want the light to hit your subject evenly. A cloud moving in front of the sun and casting a shadow on your subject’s face can spoil a shot. This meant closely following the weather and cloud movements with Noah Throop, our cinematographer, before each shoot. On bad weather days, we filmed in the Times Center auditorium, which was less sensitive to changes in light.
We also had to overcome the challenges of filming during a pandemic, which meant we had to find large, open spaces and put in place testing regimes and safety protocols for staff and guests.
Behind the scenes, we coordinated with campaigns in an effort to catch every candidate that came in, which sometimes meant walking through the Times Square subway station, trying to spot their vehicles in traffic, and looking to confirm whether Andrew Yang and his team were actually having lunch at Schnipper’s (a hamburger restaurant in the Times building) before his interview. The cameras were rolling from the time we met the candidates outside until the time they left the building.
We decided to do one video per candidate, instead of organizing the videos by topic, to give viewers the ability to sit down and listen to a specific person if they wish. Interviews lasted from 40 minutes to over an hour depending on the candidate’s speaking style and brevity.
My role during an interview as a producer is to focus on the look and sound of everything on the video. This means that the range of things I do include listening to good sound bites, watching for issues that might require extra taking, fixing people’s hair, and running outside to ask drivers to ambulance on pause to turn off their flashing lights (which I had to do several times during these shoots).
In reviewing the interviews, we tried to highlight what made a candidate unique and to highlight the main differences between the members of the group, as well as some moments of levity. But ultimately what we wanted to offer was a resource where voters could hear from everyone, relatively unfiltered, to help them make up their minds.